Sydney-born Jessica Gomes has never had to walk 6km with a ceramic pot on her head to collect water, but that’s the reality for millions of women and girls in India—as she learnt on a life-changing five-day trip there in September last year.
“It’s very heavy!” the model tells WHO. “I literally [carried] it for like 10 seconds and I couldn’t even handle it. I couldn’t believe these little girls carry these. It’s just a different environment and a different way of survival.”
The World Vision ambassador was in India with the relief organisation to raise awareness of the plight millions face merely to access basic necessities, including water and sanitation.
On May 19, World Vision will hold its fourth annual Global 6K for Water event, which takes place in over 20 countries around the world. “Everyone has to walk [or run] 6km, because that’s the average [distance] that children walk just to fetch water every day,” Gomes, 33, explains.
This year marks the first time Australia is participating in the event, with each registration ensuring six people receive access to clean water and hygiene education.
“It’s getting the community together to raise money—844 million people lack access to safe water while 2.5 billion people live without improved sanitation” says Gomes. With this event, people can “put themselves in their shoes to raise awareness.”
While her first love is modelling, Gomes had long dreamt of supporting a charitable organisation. “I love what I do, [but] I knew that I wanted to get into a charity and give back,” she says. “It really was a dream come true when World Vision were looking for ambassadors and they chose me. I wanted to see first-hand the changes that they were making because I grew up watching their commercials on TV.”
Gomes, who was raised in Perth as the youngest of four—she has siblings Giselle, now 40, Bianca, 37, and Nathan, 35—didn’t have an overly positive experience at school. “I liked school but I was also teased a lot,” she says. “So I didn’t feel comfortable.”
Seeing kids thriving in India amid adversity transformed the way the Los Angeles–based beauty looks at life. “Trips like that change you,” Gomes says. “I feel more of a duty and a responsibility to spread positivity and goodness because on social media I don’t see it in an authentic way. I do feel like more light needs to be spread.”
To that end, she’s on a quest to turn it into a force for good. “It’s all smoke and mirrors on Instagram,” she says. “We want to put our best self forward and I can even vouch that I’ve done that ... Now, I can show the world that spreading goodness and being an example of help is amazing.”
And yet, Gomes concedes she’s sometimes disheartened by the lacklustre response to her posts with a social conscience. “My World Vision stuff gets less likes [on Instagram] than my swimsuit stuff. It’s so funny, isn’t it?” she muses. “Humanity has less likes! You’re like, what is the world coming to?”
But Gomes encountered only open hearts in India. “I landed the day of my birthday,” she says. “I went to the World Vision office in Rajasthan and I walk in [and] it’s like a full surprise. They buy me a birthday cake and light up candles and they had this whole choir come in and sing me this gospel song.” The moment “was like a spiritual awakening,” recalls Gomes.
“I was so overwhelmed with love and joy. I couldn’t believe that they had organised such a beautiful experience for me. I was deeply, deeply, deeply touched by their generosity and by their warmth. It was probably one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had. To turn 33 in India, giving back, I think is the greatest gift that I could give out but also it gave a massive gift back to me. It does put things into perspective, let me tell you.”
While Gomes struggled to carry the water pot in India, she’ll never forget the locals’ courage or underestimate the power of one. “When I first started thinking about philanthropy work and how do I want to give back, it felt like a bit of a big mountain,” she reflects. “Like, how could I do that? How can my one dollar change the world? But you can actually change one person’s life, or two or three, and then it’s like a ripple effect.”
For more information about the Global 6K for Water event, visit www.worldvision.com.au/global6kforwater